My friends love to joke about my fear of spiders. I can’t recall a week which has gone by without a meme, viral video, or I Fucking Love Science post about spiders via social media. I really did freak out once when I got one too many spiders on me during an early morning mountain bike ride. One of those suckers sneaked up on my shoulder like a creature from Alien. But that’s not what scares me. Not by a mile.

I’m still working my way through The Steal Like an Artist Journal. The last post I made about it was profoundly appreciative of tens of friends. This one’s only going to be revealing – about my only real fear. There’s a page in the Journal which asks you to write down your fears then cross them out as if slaying a dragon with a sword. I’ve only got the one fear and there’s no badass red Sharpie which can slay it. That fear is that I’ll end up like my father. Having lived a long, ambitious, fruitful, balanced life – and unable to remember anything other than that those people I lived it for should feel more gratitude towards me for having lived it.

The unwritten fear.
The unwritten fear is the worst. I could do a Rorschach test on a smushed spider and it wouldn’t bother me as much as what’s not written here.
Those of you who know me should probably think this is obvious, but not necessarily the implications of it. My dad has dementia and massive brain damage. All my visits with him are the same to varying degrees and I always have a couple reactions to them. There’s the pained reaction to see him like this. Unable to recognize me or discern his memories of me as an adult with kids from those of him as my parent doing similar things. Then there’s the inner, more layered, reaction. The one which makes me wonder. The one which really keeps me from visiting him when I’ve got the time. I can deal with the hurt that’s become his life because it’s not me. But what if it was. What if it will be. Spiders really can’t touch that. Spiders are a blessing in comparison. I can slay those with a sword all day long.

Most of the time, this isn’t on my mind but it pops up now and again. A few months ago, I was at a client dinner with some colleagues. I’ve got a fairly impressive memory which ranges from recent events to who sang what 80’s song. Not everything is worth filing away, but what I do sticks. When one of my co-workers said she had an eidetic memory, I asked her a few questions and she was truly like Google. Her recall was instantaneous – but there was also a bit of abstraction from everyday life to it. At some point, I must have mentioned that my dad has dementia and she immediately identified my fear. She nailed it: That I’d end up like him. Maybe it was the gin she was drinking.

At its heart, this is legit. There’s no cure and no stopping dementia. A diagnosis means nothing other than that you’re on a path. I’ve got an uncle who lived a life smoking, out of shape, and eating what he pleased. He’s reaching a point where how he’s lived has caught up with him. He also happens to have been my father’s best friend growing up. He met his wife – my mother’s sister – at my parents’ wedding. And my father, who lived his life staying fit, now has the curse of being in good shape with no real health issues beyond the obvious. He stares at me with unrecognizing eyes when I bring up my uncle, his lifelong friend. He’s doomed to live the rest of his life without understanding it. The only horror I can imagine being worse is Lou Gehrig’s Disease which is the exact opposite.

Many of us live with a fear like this. I know people who have lost loved ones to cancer at early ages. I’ve got friends who battle depression while knowing that the world can barely understand their demons, much less truly join the fight against them. I imagine them reading this at home on their own and copy/pasting their own unwritten fears over my own

In the face of this, I say: fuck failure. Fuck the possibility of underachieving, the possibility of future illness, or a lack of connection. What we do today may be forgotten – even by us. But that shouldn’t drive us or hold us back. Rather, what we do should be in defiance of that fear. Maybe that helps us face the fear. Maybe it fools us into believing that we’re facing it while we push it to the back of our minds. But it shouldn’t rule our daily lives because that diminishes who we are and what our legacy should be.

Tools long forgotten.
My father’s drafting tools which sit in my home office. Would he recognize them when he can’t remember his friends and family from when he used them?
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8 thoughts on “The Unwritten Fear

  1. I love and always will. I suspected your fear but didn’t know how to bring it up. We must talk asap. Mom

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Eric. As always, your blog is heart-breaking and brutally honest. I have long feared that I’d end up like my mom, severely disabled by a brain tumor. Her doctors insist there isn’t a genetic trait to her cancer, but I sometimes worry anyway. It’s natural. My mom ate healthy foods, didn’t smoke or drink, lived a healthy lifestyle- and got cancer anyway. Her parents both chain-smoked for 40 years, never exercised, etc and lived to be 89 and 94, respectively.
    My deal (your dad often used that expression, I recall) is to live well, have fun, love without limits, etc etc and don’t worry about things you can’t control. Worrying is unnecessary stress and hinders life’s enjoyment. Thanks for blogging…..

  3. I love you brother.

    I had several points that I thought to share, takes on my perspective of what you wrote.

    Then I thought that the beauty and power of your words is that it prompts us to find our own parallels. What are our fears? Where do we take chances, or not? What do we take for granted?

    Nah, the best response just to say your writing is appreciated and I love you brother.

    1. Thanks, Clifford. “Our own parallels” is a piece of where I was going. At some point, most people can overlay themselves onto this.
      I appreciate your appreciation. Seriously, thank you for reading and letting me get your mind going. Writing helps me and knowing that you’re getting something out of it is so much better.
      LYB

  4. This blog entry just knocked me over the head. Powerful and daring to go where most of us ‘fear’ to travel. Thanks.

      1. It’s not what happens at 64, or any of the future numbers. It’s what you decide to do the day after and where it takes your life. Have a good one.
        Eric’s mom

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